Shula's Steak House
For the last several years I have been participating in a wonderful event. It has no official name or title; but is effectively the post-Lotusphere decompression dinner.
A few years back I and some of my Lotusphere friends who were also staying over until Friday decided to meet for a nice, relaxing dinner on Thursday evening. (For those of you who have never attended a Lotusphere: Thursday is the last day. Most folks fly home on Thursday afternoon / evening; but some of us prefer to stay over for an extra day or so). We met up at Shula's Steak House just off the main lobby of the Dolphin. The service and atmosphere were perfect for relaxing after a hard week -the meal was fantastic. Everything about the dinner was simply wonderful. Sure, it was a bit pricey; but it was worth it. That evening we decided we should make this "closing dinner" a regular tradition; and so we have.
Over the years this tradition has grown from the original tiny group of friends (I believe there were less than 5 the first year) into a pretty important (at least in my opinion) social event. Every year we have invited a few more people; and every year they have come. I have even had people tell me that they now plan an extra day at Lotusphere just so they can attend this dinner. Pretty cool eh? I've also had people ask me if they could please come to the dinner -which has always left me feeling a little bit weird. The idea that I and a few friends could start a tradition that has become so important to so many people, and also being considered an "invitation only" or "A List" kind of thing totally blows my mind.
Over the years the staff at Shula's has always come through for us, the dinners have always been perfect; the conversation, cocktails, wine, coffee, etc. have gotten better and better every year. A few years ago Shula's started setting us up in a private room, which was again something very cool. As I said before, the meal was expensive, but it was always worth it.
This year was our biggest year ever. We had some thirty two people (32) show up; including Ed Brill and Alan Lepofsky. Now, please don't misunderstand my name dropping here. I'm bringing up their names not to say "we're so cool that we got these guys to come" but to simply point out that they were invited and came not as representatives of IBM, simply as friends sharing a nice meal after a long week.
The meal was, as usual, fabulous. However there seemed to be a slightly different attitude toward us on the part of the waiting staff. It's not so much that they were rude or anything like that; it's not even that they seemed to treat some of our questions with disdain (which they did). No, that's not right either. It was less than disdain, but more than indifference. I couldn't quite put my finger on what exactly it was -but I wasn't the only one who sensed it. I wish I could better describe what I was sensing / feeling; I guess the best way to describe it is that something felt queer.
I didn't let feeling of unease hinder my enjoyment of the evening though. I had great conversations and wonderful food. My good buddy Rob McDonagh selected a single malt for me to try; and it was quite simply the finest Scotch I've ever had (and at US $50 / shot it had damn well better be). It was a wonderful evening; right up until the bill came.
Remember before when I said that we all knew it was pricey? You have no idea. We had been telling people when we invited them to plan on spending between $100 and $125 per person for their dinner. This was way beyond that. The final bill came in at over FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS. The actual amount was $5091.34. Woof.
I know some other folks who were there have already blogged about this, but I want to say a few things. If you examine the bill, you will notice that quite a bit of it (over $1300) is for beer, wine, and liquor. I don't have a problem with that. We are all adults, and we all knew up front that this was an expen$ive restaurant. We ordered the booze knowing it was overpriced -which means we don't have any right to be upset about the price.
The food was excellent, and in my opinion worth the price. $2325 in food / 31 people comes out to just $75 / plate. (I know the I said earlier that there were 32 of us, and I'm pretty sure I'm right. -however I'm going to go with what is printed on the bill). Granted, $75 may seem like a lot to spend on a steak dinner, but this is one of the finest steak houses in the country. I've been to better steak houses; but I can only count them on one hand. I don't think we have any right to complain about the food cost either.
$52 for 21 coffees? Pshhh. That's a bargain -especially for this group of people. We quite regularly drop $3.50 for a latte or cappuccino; so the price of the coffee isn't even worth discussing.
The $804 gratuity was included in the bill. It really irritates me when a restaurant tacks on this automatic gratuity charge; particularly so in light of the weird vibes I was getting from the service staff. Having an automatic 20% tacked on to the bill may bother you as much as it does me. However, I understand why they do it. We had dedicated 4 service staff employees (2 waiters and 2 bus men) assigned to our group -meaning they were working only our room and no others all night. In addition we had 2 - 3 other service staff checking in and helping out when necessary. That's not counting the bartenders who poured our drinks, the chefs who ran the kitchen, or the line cooks who actually prepared our food. In a high end restaurant, every one of these folks gets a "cut" of the tip; and what seems to us as a giant tip turns out to be an actual pay cut for the staff. I've worked in the restaurant business; and the simple truth is that the service staff usually gets screwed by large groups. As a waiter you will always make more money on several small tables than one large table. So, even though I don't like it I can accept it.
So what exactly am I bitching about? Water. Agua. H2O. The elixir of life.
Take a closer look at the bill. You'll notice 38 bottles of something called VOSS STILL; for which we were charged $264.10. You may be saying to yourself "So what is the big deal? Many people drink bottled water with their meals."; and you would be right. Except that not a single one of us ordered bottled water. We were never given a choice, we were never told of the cost. Yes, our glasses of water were kept filled, and yes, the men filling the glasses were in fact filling them from big bottles of water; but the point is that nobody asked.
Which brings me back to the weird vibe I was feeling from the service staff. Now I don't have any proof of this other than my gut instincts; but I truly believe that they knew we were being charged for the water; and they knew we had not been asked; and they felt guilty about it. I don't blame them; they were in an very rough situation to be in. I do blame the management of the restaurant though. I'm not bitching about a five thousand dollar dinner bill. But I am really bothered by the $264.10 water bill, and the additional $52.82 gratuity we spent (20% automatically included on the bill).
Over the years our group has spent quite a lot of money at Shula's. I'd be willing to guess that in the last 7 years alone our group has spent well over $20,000 -and that's not including the other times we may have gone there; I'm just talking about our "closing dinner" here. Of that my personal expense has probably been somewhere between eight hundred and a thousand dollars.
For a measly $316.92 Shula's has lost my good will. I'm not going to say that I'll never eat there again; but right now my attitude regarding Shula's is pretty piss-poor. I wonder what the group would think about moving our dinner to Waffle House or Denny's? Hell, we could probably get a private room, dinner, liquor, concert, and shuttle service to / from the House of Blues for our entire group for less than five grand.
What do you think?-Devin